SPRING CLEANING OUR DATA CLOSET


“It’s like a closet full of data that I access to pick and choose,” says Charl.

“Sooo…rather than having a whole bunch of shoes hidden at the back of your closet that you never look at, you bring them out, set them out, and think what’s good to wear?” I ask.

“Exactly.”

Tech-volunteer Charl van der Merwe recently humoured me with this helpful Dummies Guide description of the work he does for Axium. Charl has spent his time building dashboards that make the information we capture through our programmes easy to view and interpret, helping managers track their team’s progress.

“The idea of the dashboards is to find a way of letting our data speak for itself and actually help employees make better informed decisions, see trends, and track what they’re doing,” Charl explained.

Though pulling some shoes out of our “data closet” might sound simple, building the dashboards that we began using this term is a lot of work. It will be Charl’s main project for most of the year.

“The dashboard is a visualisation of our data, extracting what’s useful,” Charl told me. It begins with selecting what you want to see and feeding that through to a programme that turns it into info graphics, using adaptable imagery.

Charl studied Geo-Informatics at Stellenbosch University, learning to make sense of large amounts of geographical data in order to produce a useful digital output. This positioned him perfectly to carry out this project, one we have had in the pipeline for some time.

“The big thing for all companies, including Axium, is to make use of your data and make sensible use of it, because you have the data but it’s not necessarily going to help you,” Charl said.

Programme leads can now reference the dashboards during reflective and planning meetings with their teams, and Charl also posts a printout of the dashboards in the office so anyone can see the information.

Ekukhuleni Programme Manager Clare Acheson has found this very useful so far. “It allows us to visually assess how the week went, shows clearly if there are any issues and helps us know which students or schools we need to follow up on,” she said. “The more effective the tracking of our students, the more effective our programme is.”

Teams have also been able to request what they’d like to see and Charl is working on tailoring the dashboards so they present the most relevant information for the different programmes, given their particular needs.

“The dashboards were originally designed for Ekukhuleni so the format was ill-suited to Masakhane,” said Gené McAravey, who heads up our Grade 6 to 9 programme. “We had to chat with Charl to redesign ours which he has done.”

Gené went on to explain that this process actually helped her team pick up errors in the data capturing that was happening between paper registers and the database, which is helping to fix past mistakes. “I believe the dashboards will be very useful in the future,” she said.

Using technology to improve systems this way is a key aim for the tech team behind the work, making us more effective and efficient to magnify our programmes’ impact.


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